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Director General of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), J. Paul Morgan, has called for the establishing of an “office of the public counsel”, which would lobby and advocate on behalf of consumers on matters relating to utilities.He suggested that the Office of the Public Defender could be expanded to undertake this role.
Mr. Morgan, who was addressing an OUR-organized parish meeting at the Wexford Court Hotel in St. James on Friday (Feb.17), noted that while the OUR had sought to fill this role through the establishment of the Consumer Advisory Committee on Utilities (CACU), the agency was not in effect, a consumer advocacy organization.
The OUR, he noted, had a duty to protect the interests of consumers of the utility services that it regulated, but it must do so in the context of ensuring safe, economical and reliable service. “We balance the relationships,” he said.
Mr. Morgan pointed out that, “the fact that the companies have the ability to make presentations in a very formal way to the office, to get issues on to the record, it is exactly the same way that we need a complementary function where consumers can get their issues in a formal way before the OUR.”
“It is a fact that Jamaica does not have an effective lobby on behalf of consumers, and more importantly, an effective lobby that acts on behalf of consumers, who deal in a relationship with utility companies”, he added.
He noted that while CACU, which was formed some five years ago, was recognized as a credible group of interveners on behalf of consumers, more needed to be done. “I do believe that we now need to raise the bar; we need to raise the bar once more on consumer advocacy,” Mr. Morgan stated.
The OUR meeting in St. James was the fourth in a series being held across the island, with a view to having some direct interaction with, and feedback from the members of the public on utility matters.